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Sex Discrimination

Sex Discrimination And Title Vii: An Unusual Political Alliance

The legislative battle to pass the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e et seq.) required the leadership of President LYNDON B. JOHNSON and the bipartisan support of legislators from outside the South. The original draft of title VII of the act, which prohibits employment discrimination, limited its scope to discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin. Sex was not included as a "protected class" because supporters of the bill feared such a provision might kill the act itself.

In February 1964 Representative Howard W. Smith, a powerful Democrat from Virginia, offered an amendment to include sex as a protected class. Supporters of the bill were suspicious of Smith's motives, as he had, for three decades, consistently opposed CIVIL RIGHTS laws prohibiting racial discrimination. Many suspected that he was including sex discrimination in title VII in an attempt to break the bipartisan consensus for the entire bill.

Smith, however, claimed he had no ulterior motive. Since the 1940s he had formed a loose alliance with the National Woman's party (NWP), a feminist organization headed by ALICE PAUL. Since 1945 Smith had been a sponsor of the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT, which Paul had originally drafted in 1923. Smith said he had introduced the amendment to title VII at the request of Paul and the NWP.

Sponsors of the bill urged that the amendment be defeated, but female representatives, such as Martha W. Griffiths of Michigan, led a bipartisan effort to adopt the amendment. The amendment was passed by a vote of 164 to 133, with most southern Democrats voting for it. The Senate then adopted the House language. If Smith and the other southerners thought the amendment would scuttle the bill, they were mistaken. The law was enacted on July 2, 1964, with Smith and other southern Democrats voting against the entire bill. Nevertheless, Smith had proved an unlikely hero for WOMEN'S RIGHTS.

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